I would suggest that in its beginings the life of Charles Edward Coughlin was marked with omens and portents - and by a smothering mother. In the end it was marked by farce and melodrama. And that ending may not have been entirely his fault. He wanted to be a politician. Instead his mother pressured him to put on the collar.She won. In 1916 Charles was ordained as a Catholic Priest. He was assigned as a teacher to Assumption College, in Sandwich, Ontario. But on Sundays he crossed the border to preach at churches in Detroit.It was in Detroit that Charles (above) used his God given talents for speaking and making political connections. His sermons impressed the Bishop of Detroit, Michael Gallagher, who made certain the young man met the right people – rich and important people - like City Councilman John Lodge and his niece, Evangeline Lindberg, and auto maker Henry Ford. In 1923 Bishop Gallagher (above) offered the rising star his own parish, a new suburban church, “The Shrine of the Little Flower”, in Royal Oak, Michigan. Initially there were only 25 members of the congregation, and Father Coughlin’s mother had to sell trinkets in the gift shop. Faced with empty coffers and pews, Father Coughlin used his connections with Mrs. Lindberg and her son, the as yet unknown flyer Charles Lindberg, to convince the management of tiny radio station WJR to provide him with a free hour on Sunday afternoons. His first broadcast (above), on October 3, 1926 produced only eight letters in response. But it was a beginning. It is interesting to note the commonality of Charles' message supported by those powerful and wealthy names from Detroit; religious certainty, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, and an affinity for fascism. Certainly all these threads came together in Father Coughlin, but clearly they were aleady present in Charles and much of upper class Detroit of the 1920’s.By 1930 Father Coughlin’s audience numbered over 40 million, and it was said you could listen to “The Fighting Priest” and his entire “Golden Hour of the Little Flower” through open windows as you walked down any residential street in America on a Sunday afternoon. Father Coughlin preached a practical Christianity with, said one observer, “…a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm,…". It was a voice, added the commentator,
"made for lies.” As the radio show grew in popularity Charles he started a magazine, "Social Justice" and soon it had over 30 million readers. The subscriptions that poured in built a new, magnificent octagonal edifice on Twelve Mile Road and Woodward, in Royal Oak, and paid for Charles' network of broadcast stations.Coughlin blamed communism for the rising divorce rate, and called for old age insurance for American workers - what would eventually become Social Security. He supported Roosevelt in the 1932 election (“Roosevelt or Ruin”), but by 1935 Coughlin was calling him “The great betrayer and liar…Franklyn Double-Crossing Roosevelt”. Coughlin renamed the “The New Deal” the “Jew Deal” and sent demonstrators into the streets to block the acceptance of any more Jews escaping Nazi persecution. They were thus returned to Germany for execution. And yet modern excusers like to say he was "accused" of anti-Semitism. Look at the art work from his weekly newspaper (above and below) and make your own assessment. Does that look like anti-Semitism to you? Who but an anti-Semite would deny it? At the time Coughlin openly justified his anti-Semitism by claiming “Jewish persecution only followed after Christians first were persecuted” and promised, “When we get through with the Jews in America, they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing.” He preached the same strain of ugly hatred that underlay Charles Lindberg’s “America First” committee, and Henry Ford’s American publication of the Czarists fraud the “Protocol of the Elders of Zion”. Coughlin even serialized the fraudulant "Protocol" in his own newspaper. I would say that qualified him as an anti-Semite. It is also clear in retrospect that Father Coughlin was not above enlightened self interest. After Roosevelt took America off the Gold Standard, Coughlin campaigned strongly for substitution of the Silver Standard. Few knew at the time that Father Coughlin was one of the largest private holders of silver in the America. An uncharitable depiction of the man might suggest he was as obsessed with money as any Jew. But what finally destroyed Father Coughlin was his support for “The Christian Front”. Coughlin's association with "The Front" was not merely philosophical. He spoke at Front rallies (below), and allowed his name and image on Front advertising.Then in January of 1940 (another Roosevelt election year) the F.B.I. swept into the Front's Brooklyn offices, arresting nine men and seizing 15 bombs, 18 cans of cordite, dynamite, fuses, incendiary chemicals, 16 rifles, 750 rounds of machine gun ammo and “one long sword”. At a press conference Director J. Edgar Hoover claimed that "The Front" was plotting to blow up a Jewish newspaper, a movie theatre showing Russian films, a Post Office, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and thus spark a revolution (Oh, and it was also alledged they wanted to assassinate President Roosevelt). The trial of "The Christian Front" conspirators was no easier than the trial of the Chicago Seven. There is a strain in American juries which, in the cool light of day, don't like to convict people for thinking about a crime. The Front's defendants were largely acquitted. But the revolations, the weapons seized and the attention to the language used by Father Coughlin in support of the Front, caused much of the public support for Father Coughlin evaporate. Lord knows, the Catholic church had long wanted The Fighting Priest to shut up. And with Roosevelt's re-election in 1940 and the entry of the U.S. into the war in 1941, Democratic politicians no longer felt the need to handle Father Coughlin with care. First his radio network was squeezed under new fairness rules, and then the Post Office deemed his magazines as anti-American and stopped providing them with volume discounts for delivery.The final prop fell away when Bishop Gallagher died in 1942. The new Bishop of Detroit, Frances Mooney, immediatly ordered Coughlin to stop his public crusades. And being a good little soldier, he did. With the discovery of Hitler’s death camps in 1945, Coughlin's brand of virilent anti-Semitism was also finished as a mass movement in America, at least for the time being. Thus the curtain finally fell on the career of an American priest who wanted to be a politician. This bitter, hate spewing little man who had pledged his life in service of the "Prince of Peace" died in well deserved obscurity in 1979. By then it had become clear that if you removed the hatred from his message, Father Coughlin had nothing original left to say. For about ten years America seemed willing to go along with the “Fighting Priest”. But, like a later hate monger and anti-Semite, Glen Beck, why was Charles Coughlin so full of anger and hatred? Why did he hate people he did not know? Who was he really angry with? I do not presume to know. But I do know that hatred and anger always destroys its owner. And that is a fact. Hate is a character flaw. The Americas eventual rejection of “The Father of Hate Radio” may not have been so much about a sense of decency, as was about the public's fickle tastes. It is an enduring truth about both politics and religion, and twice as true twice as fast when the two are combined, that the hotest fad is usually the first to fade. Or, as Abraham Lincoln put it, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."
You can see a little hope in that, if you wish to. It’s up to you.
- 30 -